Every video has an equal and opposite reaction video

I’m not a big fan of reaction videos as a genre, but Glamour‘s second-order reaction video series You Sang My Song is an exception. A star watches YouTube1 covers of their hits, and then the people who made each cover watches the reaction video of the star watching their cover. The stars sometimes get genuinely excited. The YouTubers are often genuinely verklempt.2

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Sucking on a chili dog

One thing about cover songs is that there are a lot of weird edge cases. And so people ask What does your account say about… some oddity that they have in mind. For example: What does your account say about Tom McGovern’s video where he plays John Melloncamp’s “Jack and Diane” but replaces the usual lyrics with permutations of the phrase “suckin’ on a chili dog”?

The answer is a bit convoluted.

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Why I don’t give a definition of “cover”, Christmas in October edition

In a remembrance of his friend Rob Aldridge, Rick Beato recounts being in a band with him. They were playing Christmas songs in a bar. The proprietor interrupted their set and said that he thought they were going to play covers.

Aldridge replied, “What are you talking about? We didn’t write these songs!”

Unamused, the proprietor paid them for the gig on the condition that they stop playing immediately.

a donkey with a harp

Not understanding how consent works

Via the Guardian: Jonathan Mitchell, the architect of Texas’ abortion ban, claims that it doesn’t limit women’s ability to control their own bodies. Instead, “women can ‘control their reproductive lives’ without access to abortion” because they can practice abstinence. This is a bad take in lots of ways, but it requires at minimum that all sex be consensual. If he took as hard a line against rape culture as he takes against women’s choice, one might believe that he isn’t just plumping for patriarchy.

Over on Twitter: Kathleen Stock writes, “Some knowledge is essentially experiential- you can’t get knowledge of x, just by hearing description of x. Colours, tastes are like this.. and sexual pleasure. If you’ve never had sexual function, you can’t give informed consent to losing it imo: you can’t know what’s lost.” It’s an argument against puberty blockers, but it also has the immediate consequence that first sexual experiences can’t be consensual.1

Polite conversation

Today I attended part of a regular seminar series at Uppsala University. An upside of a dire times is that it was on Zoom, so I was able to just drop in. The talk was by Brandon Polite on The Fine Art of Sonic Duplication.

Polite discussed artists remaking their own tracks for licensing reasons, the paradigmatic examples being Def Leppard (who remade a few tracks so as to squeeze their record label for a better deal) and Taylor Swift (who is in the process of remaking her first six albums so as to crush misogyny and master her destiny). These are cases I’ve also been thinking about recently, so it was interesting to hear his take on them. The questions from the Uppsala folks were also top notch.

A screenshot of the talk. I’ve blurred out the folks from Uppsala, because I’m not sure about protocol.

Torment and interpolations

John Stuart Mill makes an argument that there will come a time— if it has not been reached already— when all the great works of music have already been written. He writes:

The octave consists only of five tones and two semi-tones, which can be put together in only a limited number of ways, of which but a small proportion are beautiful: most of these, it seemed to me, must have been already discovered, and there could not be room for a long succession of Mozarts and Webers, to strike out, as these had done, entirely new and surpassingly rich veins of musical beauty.

His idea is that there are only a finite number of notes which can be combined in only a finite number of ways. Many of the ways will be awful. Of those that are not, many have already been discovered and documented by great composers.

Although Mill only addresses instrumental music, we could extend the argument to songs. Any lyrics which can be written down with an alphabet are built from a finite number of letters which can be combined in only a finite number of ways. Many possible lyrics will be bad. Of those that are not, many have already been written— and each new song further reduces the remaining number of unwritten songs. So there will come a time when all of the great songs have been written.

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Write “whim” on the lintels

Last month on Twitter, Helen De Cruz asked what the motivation is to work up an idea into a paper or book, rather than letting them remain as musings, scribbled notes, or blog posts.

My initial answer, “Whim.” I added, “Not in a fleeting sense, though. There are some papers that I just find myself writing, and I guess those are the ones.”

The thing I currently find myself writing is a book on the philosophy of cover songs, tentatively titled Philosophy of Cover Songs. Although there’s a path that got me to this point, there is no real deliberation in it. The alternatives would be either to struggle to write something else (and so get less written) or to wander off to some other activity (and so write nothing).